How Will Facebook’s Fan Box Widget Affect Online Ads?

Several weeks ago, Facebook launched a new “Fan Box” widget, allowing Page owners to add a widget to any website to turn visitors into Facebook fans. Since then, many Page owners have done just that, and are finding the Fan Box widget an effective way to grow their fan base.

However, as you may expect, some Page owners have been putting the Fan Box widget not only on their own websites, but also inside banner ads on other websites, encouraging ad viewers to fan the page in line through the Fan Box widget in the ad.

For example, Spongecell has created a new line of ads (see examples for Olive Garden, Jiffy Lube, and General Mills) that incorporate the Fan Box widget, and Spongecell CSO Marc Guildimann says conversion rates have been high – almost as many ad viewers are becoming a fan as clicking through to the advertiser’s landing Page in trials so far.

However, it appears that Facebook is not terribly keen on new ad units like Spongecell’s that enable people to become a fan inside the ad. In fact, Facebook’s terms of service actually prohibit using the Fan Box widget in any ad at all. Section 6.12 reads, “You may not place a Fan Box widget in an advertisement.” Why?

According to a Facebook spokesperson, “We want Page owners to have an easy way to connect with fans both on and off of Facebook.  In order to protect the the Fan Box widget from being used for the wrong reasons, we do not allow it to be used in third party advertising.”

While Facebook wouldn’t go into more detail, it’s safe to assume that Facebook wants to protect the “Become a Fan” experience from becoming too intertwined with aggressive online ads that it hasn’t approved. One can imagine the variety of ways advertisers could (potentially misleadingly) push users to become a fan in an ad unit on a web site, then pollute their Facebook stream later. Facebook wants more control over that experience, even if it means partially restricting growth for Facebook Pages.

However, it also means that high-quality ads, like those from Spongecell, are not going to become more common. Rather than having an outright prohibition on ads like these, we think it would make more sense for Facebook to allow trusted Page owners to drive more ad viewers to convert to Page fans in ads across the web – but Facebook doesn’t plan on allowing anyone to do so for now.